Yes, you know who I mean: Steven Seagal. The Angry One.
Yesterday someone asked me what I thought about him, being that I am an aikido guy myself. That was a tougher question than I thought it would be.
On one hand, he is simply amazing. He is legitimately one of the first non-Japanese to go and live and train in Japan. His trained there until he started his own school in Osaka. A true pioneer.
He was the first person to really show dynamic, practical aikido on film, and was called "The Bruce Lee of Aikido" by many. His early films showcase the effectiveness of what he studied and developed in aikido. People were amazed. I watched "Above The Law" again and again and again. Very entertaining stuff.
At the same time, something just didn't make sense.
It's easy to pick people apart if you try; especially public figures whose lives are under constant scrutiny. Seagal sensei has been married and divorced 3 times and has 6 children along the way.
His movie career got relegated to the straight to video market and never quite made it to the level of other contemporaries such as Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. Outside of action/martial arts genre, he was not able to make a mark in films.
At some point, his Buddhist views and Eastern philosophy turned from Japan to more esoteric Tibetan philosophy. He met the Dalai Lama, was proclaimed a Tulku, and used his celebrity to further awareness of theirs and other social causes.
I guess what I end up noticing most is that he rarely, if ever, smiles.
After nearly all of my life in martial arts training, I do not want that to be me.
I want to smile, laugh, play, enjoy. I want my life to be full and vibrant, and to be a rich part of the many relationships I have with my friends and family. I want to make a difference in their lives and inspire them. I want to do everything I can to give my family (I have only 1 marriage and 2 children so far) a happy and supportive environment. In my 50s, if I were still trying to be "the tough guy", I would feel I had gone wrong somewhere.
It is the goal of every teacher to give students a moral framework, and help them to explore their spirituality just as they become ready for each new step. This means gently nudging them (or slapping their face if the situation calls for it) to awaken them to their potential as human beings to be happy and healthy - and ultimately to achieve their own unique definition of success. Being "the tough guy" is simply not enough for any of us for very long - surely this is not enough for us as we become teachers and role models ourselves.
What do I think about Seagal-sensei? I admire him for his skill and courage to give himself so completely at such a young age to chase his dreams. I wish his teachers had offered him a deeper and richer platform to find happiness. I wish he could smile more.
I'd love to train with him someday. Maybe afterward we can have a cup of tea and talk about things. It is never to late to learn to smile.
(Thanks for the inspiration Shai)